Tuesday Feb 8, 2011

What a totally fantastic, utterly unforgettable day! We’ve spent it on the Falkland Islands … at the edge of the Southern Atlantic … and it’s hard to know where to start.

When Charles Darwin arrived here on the Beagle in 1833 he declared “the whole landscape had an air of extreme desolation”. And, as the Veendam dropped anchor out from Port Stanley, it was easy to see why. Rocky, rugged, chilly and wind-swept, I couldn’t help wondering why anyone would want to live here? But, as we rumbled ashore on the ship’s orange tenders (lifeboats), the colourful Stanley township took on an olde-worlde character of its own.

Our transport for the morning – a genuine London double-decker bus – reminded us that we were on British soil … and, settled in our upstairs seats, we were soon eyeballing the town’s significant buildings, landmarks, museums and shipwrecks, and learning some essential Island history (including the 1982 conflict between Britain and Argentina). Our guide for those two hours was a Kiwi (from Papatoetoe!) – as was the lady co-ordinating our afternoon wildlife trip! (Turns out there are Kiwis everywhere … and they love the place!)

Following lunch on our own (me and Mrs Cooney had fish’n’chips in the quaint old Victory Tavern), we careened off across private farmland in bucking, bouncing, lurching 4×4 Land Rovers – en route to a penguin colony where around 1000 pairs of Gentoo penguins nest on lumpy, peaty land beside a sandy beach.

What can I say? They were gorgeous! Most of them were youngsters (teenagers, we were told) – busy molting as they stood, rank upon rank, face-on to the stiff breeze … or flopped down asleep on their plump white bellies. Far from being scared of us two-legged animals, they were as curious as all-get-out – waddling up to us, looking at us sideways, sniffing and gently pecking our hands, and begging to be photographed. Most of the adult birds were out at sea, filling up on fish for their hungry brood – but, here and there, we saw parents regurgitating gooey delicacies into open waiting beaks … and the occasional babysitter with a chick tucked under her feathers.

A few King penguins could be seen amongst the Gentoos – taller, more regal, with even brighter orange colouring – and down on the beach could be found the odd Magellanic penguin (smaller with black beaks).

If it wasn’t for the biting wind, and the strong smell (from potent penguin-poop), and the fact that the ship might leave without us … we could’ve stayed there for hours. But, after a warm drink and some welcome cakes at the nearby Sea Cabbage Café, we bucked, bounced and lurched our way back across the rocky, boggy landscape to the Port (and the centrally-heated Veendam).

I don’t want to rub this in, but … if these destinations in the south of South America aren’t already on your ‘bucket-list’, it’s time to put them there!

TOMORROW: We reach legendary Cape Horn, in the tempestuous Southern Ocean, at the bottom of the world. So stay tuned, whatever you do …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our Mad Midlife group, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) beside the title for the day’s blog, and type away! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And if you want a better look at our map and photos, just click on them and they’ll enlarge –  magic!